A walk in the woods topped the morning meeting list of U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen on Friday.
Doug Coutts, director of South Whidbey Parks & Recreation, led Larsen into the thick of the woods on the west side of Maxwelton Road alongside the Island Shakespeare Festival grounds.
“There are two tracts of 20 acres,” Coutts explained. “It could be an extension of the district’s recreational-use land and it’s directly across Community Park.”
Larsen wanted to see first-hand the land involved in two ambitious projects the park district is pursuing with state and federal grants.
One is known as the Waterman Trails acquisition. It’s on a large chunk of private property that kids have cut through on their way to elementary school for many years. Two grants would cover its purchase price, which is $596,000.
The other project is constructing a restroom and shower facility at its proposed campground adjacent to Community Park.
Two additional grant applications total just over $1 million. If awarded, the grants would be used to create a campground welcome center facility with showers, bathrooms, picnic tables and check-in registration area.
In all, four grant applications have been submitted to two separate pots of money, Coutts said.
Two grant applications were submitted to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has preserved thousands of acres of wilderness since 1964.
The district also submitted two grant proposals for the state-funded Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which provides grants for a broad range of land protection and outdoor recreation.
“All of this could be developed,” Coutts informed the congressman as they walked in the speckled sunlight among the pines. “If the district can’t secure funding to purchase, it will most likely be logged, subdivided and sold for commercial lots.”
Parks Commissioner Dennis Hunter also hiked with Coutts, the congressman and his district director, Adam Lemieux.
“We need to highlight how these projects reflect the Land and Water Conservation mission,” Hunter said, “and what would be lost to the public forever.”
Larsen agreed that saving 40 acres of forest from development met the criteria of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
But he cautioned that the fund is up for re-authorization by Congress at the end of September.
The fund takes a portion of revenues from offshore oil drilling and uses that money to pay for local, state and national parks, as well as other public lands such as forests, shorelines, historic sites and wildlife refuges. It uses no taxpayer dollars.
“I am concerned the Land and Water Conservation Fund expires later this year, but I am committed to working with my colleagues on permanent re-authorization,” Larsen said. ”Losing the ability to protect community learning and leisure spaces like Waterman Trails and the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District Campground would be a detriment to the local community and jeopardizes regional conservation efforts.”
No road exists on the two 20-acre plots owned by the Waterman family. They have expressed a preference to preserve it if a community nonprofit group could purchase it.
As he hiked, Coutts pointed out some trail signs made by schoolchildren — Feathered Fairway, Forgotten Trail, Shortstop.
Returning back to the district’s office parking lot, Larsen checked his accumulation of steps.
“Up to 1,800 steps,” he said. “Pretty good for 10 a.m.”
Coutts then drove Larsen over to the proposed campground that is divided into three loops and three funding phases. Creating a campground in Langley was sparked when the state closed South Whidbey State Park to overnight campers three years ago as a safety precaution. Many trees suffered tree rot around the campsites.
The campground’s Phase 1 funding has been allocated —- but not yet received. The state money was delayed by a year because of the legislative battle over the capital budget.
Loop A would have 10 to 12 campsites; two will be built to federal code to accommodate people with disabilities.
The district plans to apply for additional funding to fund campsite construction in Loop B and Loop C.
“The three loops roughly replicate that number of sites that disappeared at South Whidbey State Park,” Coutts told Larsen.
Both projects require that the amount of money being sought be matched 50 percent. The two projects are contingent on all four grant applications being approved, Coutts explained.
“Getting all four covers all the projects,” he said. “If one of them fails, we’ll have to figure out something else.”